Last week, I was invited by the Royal Society to take part in a round table meeting on the digital society, which brought some really great speaker together to consider where we are going and what it may mean to live a life in a more digital way.
My main take home from the day was just how difficult it is to develop insights into trends, behaviours, and concerns, when the platforms and environments are changing so rapidly. We need an ethics of uncertainty to accommodate the radical range of drift that occurs around our lives now.
There’s not much point in developing policies for platforms that are going to be defunct within 3-5 years and this is highly risky situation, as it allows a great detail of freedom to exploit people.
For example, by the time we have figured out what it means for a child’s mental health to be on Instagram from the age of 13 to 16, the platform may then be somewhere else.
This makes me think about how we develop an ethical framework for the often ephemeral experiences we have in digital space.
Just before Christmas, I published an article which I have been developing for around 6 months. It is a first step in articulating a structure through which healthcare can be provided within digital environments, without having to require patients to relocate themselves into other spaces. I’m really excited about fleshing this out further and would welcome feedback. For me, it’s a crucial issue and makes a lot of sense given the habitualisation that goes into people’s use of digital worlds. There is still a lot to figure out, like what kind of relationship should exist between digital developers and healthcare service professionals, or what should be the format of intervening within such spaces, but here’s a starting point.
Do you sign off texts and emails with an x? Have you ever thought what that x – shorthand for a kiss – means to you or the person who has sent it to you? It’s said that the liberal use of x in electronic correspondence, whether personal or professional, is feminising the workplace – and Labour MP Jess Phillips was told off for being unprofessional by a judge a couple of years ago for signing off an email to a constituent with an x. So how did we arrive at a situation where everybody gets one at the end of nearly every sentence we type?
Part of our answer is really simple – the x in correspondence conveys a special kind of empathy for the recipient. In a world where uppercase letters read like SHOUTING and where emojis are ambiguous, every element of a text message is easily misunderstood. The x serves as a catch-all device, telling your reader that all is well in your relationship.
The ubiquitous x can be applied to friendship, romantic, or even professional relationships when messaging. It is so versatile, revealing interest, affection and a general kind of togetherness which, if face to face, would be equivalent to some kind of non-verbal body language – a head tilt, or a sympathetic nod to show agreement and understanding. The x shows that you are in this together and that you seek to continue the conversation in a spirit of mutual and even jovial appreciation.
However, this still doesn’t fully explain why it is an x that has come to wield such power, or why it feels so essential to include one. After all, it could be – and sometimes is – a different symbol: an emoji perhaps, or a simple smiley face like this: :). Nor does it tell us about the journey taken by the x in becoming this multifaceted symbol.
Making your mark
History tells us that the x has a long pedigree. In the middle ages, handwritten letters would end with an + to signify the Christian symbol of Christ. With most people being illiterate, a cross was deemed to be sufficiently accessible to verify identity. What’s more, there is evidence of such rituals of signing documentation to be accompanied by a physical kiss being given to the paper, as one might kiss a cross if of certain religious persuasions.
But, this still leaves a big gap between then and now. What happened at the beginnings of the digital revolution that explains this progressive encroachment into all of our correspondence, turning every message into its own letter? Equally, why did the x remain, while other elements of letter writing disappeared, such as writing: “Dear [name]”, or “from [name]” at the start and end of correspondence. We nearly never do this now when sending texts, because messaging has become an endless letter, a conversation that is always left open, to be picked up again at a later stage. It isn’t difficult to imagine that the cross at the end of letters evolved into the x just as words like “goodbye”, evolved out of “God be with you”.
Yet, for today’s generation, the connection behind the x is likely to be completely lost – it is simply some kind of kiss and, just like a cross, using it could land you in big trouble. After all, the kiss is remarkably culturally specific and an x can mean something very different – or nothing at all in a different language. For instance, in Spanish, x is short for “por”, meaning “for”. Equally, a kiss in one culture means something different in another and, in some cultures, there is no kissing at all. There is also a gendered politics to a kiss, which can make it a highly risky undertaking to send, especially in professional settings.
At the same time, the x can be a way of allowing somebody to express themselves physically without the pressure of actually having to touch somebody. Indeed, this is one of the web’s most amazing features; it can liberate us from the constraints of social conventions and provide a space for relating to others differently – a perspective that researchers have outlined since its inception.
There may be many people who sign off with an x who would not think of kissing the person when face to face, but feel comfortable expressing such affection through a symbol. At a time when the world wide web’s inventor, Sir Tim Berners Lee, has called for more love online, this is surely a good thing.
So, while seemingly one of the most uncomplicated things we do when messaging, the x in texts has far wider implications than perhaps we first thought. A good rule may be to only send an x to people who would be comfortable with you kissing them face to face. Would you actually kiss that person, if they were in front of you? If not, then perhaps drop the x.
Last week, the World Union of Olympic Cities new platform "Smart Cities and Sport" interviewed me for a piece about smart cities and sport. Here are a few of my quotes:
“With esports, these gamers are engaged in a global community. Cities can play an important role by providing them with a space to be competitive and creative within a community. In a certain way, it is an opportunity for the older generations to do something meaningful for the younger generations – a way to rebuild communities.”
“The definition of esports is still evolving, and this makes it a much bigger opportunity for a city. The idea is to apply digital technology to the practice of a physical activity. As of now, certain interfaces allow practitioners to advance into a digital game by doing skateboarding tricks, or play basketball on a specific court in a city. Others allow you to go for a run and, at the same time, to be part of a story in a virtual world. (…) I believe this is the future for esports: to bring it even closer to the practice of a sport activity.”
This week, I interviewed for BBC Newshour Extra on the state of the Olympic movement. We covered everything from the role of arts in the Olympics, the rise of e-sport, the importance of nationalism and, of course, the doping debate. It is a really fun programme, with some pretty serious issues covered. Take a listen here
Last week in my penultimate seminar for our ELS Study Skills course, we covered revision tips, but instead of just running through ideas, we thought we'd try to come up with a top 10 list, based on the range of top tips others provide. Here's what revision looks like for the student who lives in a world of social media and mobile apps. Hope it's useful for you!
Today, I produced an event connected to the European City of Science, which brought together some fantastic experts in science blogging. We had Stephen Harris from The Conversation, Sam Illingworth from Manchester Metropolitan University, and Laura Wheelers from Digital Science.
It was great to assemble this community and work towards producing work around ESOF and ECOS.
My second talk in South Africa allowed me to reprise my forthcoming book for MIT Press on eSports - and all things digital about sport. It was a lot of fun, especially going across the breadth of subjects that come together. There are so many ways in which the future of sports are digitally constituted and this one covered some key trajectories...
My first talk at the Sports Institute of South Africa's 10th meeting on Sport & Fitness focused on the mobile health industry. I wanted to focus on the economics, in part because they are so hard to unravel. The key thing to know is that the mobile health industry is promising efficiencies, but a new era of ingestible sensors is also upon us!
Tonight, I appeared on BBC 5 Live, a feature 90min show about the development of digital gaming in football. It was hosted at the National Football Museum and brought together a great cast of expertise in the room, including the England's Captain of the Women's team, Steph Houghton. Here's the show.
In my first article for @ConversationUK I focus on the hypershort video format as an art work. This paper was stimulated by a talk I gave for the Encounters Short Film Festival in Bristol. Take a peek
Here's one I made earlier (from China)...
Professor Andy Miah, University of the West of Scotland
Around the end of 2011, a few geeks in Sweden set up the Swedish Twitter University, which brought lectures in a series of tweets to a class of, at least, around 500 followers. It may have been the first time that Twitter was used to deliver higher education and with the recent debates about massive open online courses (MOOCs), it seems apt that we reflect on what Twitter might do to transform the classroom and open up a new space for public education?
This week, we put together an experiment that tested these limits, creating a seminar that took place entirely within Twitter, using a bespoke hashtag to bring together all of the content. Running a seminar in Twitter might sound like a relatively simple exercise: ensure students have devices through which to tweet (mostly their own, but if not then a computer or loaner, or share), then position your Visiting Professor - aka Andy Miah - in front of his computer and let rip.
There was a bit of prep time involved too. Emma was in the classroom, doing some pre-reading and preparation with the students, who were all in the same place. They need not have been, but this introduces an interesting debate: is there something to gain by being ‘Alone Together’ as Sherry Turkle would say. While mobile devices can allow us to remove the physical classroom all together, there value may be analogous to going to the cinema or watching television. Both involve watching a movie, but there’s some additional value in the physical, shared experience. In this case, not by design, but more by last minute planning, the students were all together. They also watched a livestream of all tweets, introducing an additional dimension to the experience - literally a silver screen of collective content. The session was pitched as a Q&A based on something Andy had written and over 40 minutes around 110 tweets flew through cyberspace.
Did it work? Was there much gained by this experience? Did the students get anything more - or less - than they would have, if they had just had Andy in the room giving them a talk? This is a difficult question to answer, but it was certainly different and, you could argue that universities need to prepare their students for communication in the ultra fast lane of social media.
This Twitter seminar gave students the rare opportunity to ask questions and post comments to Andy through tweets and receive individual replies. You can read the discussion via storify, here . The method encouraged reciprocity, instinctive thinking and recognised a shift in how education takes place in the 21st century, from a reliance on formal education to a recognition of spaces like social media as important sites for learning. This unique social media event gave the students an opportunity to experience public pedagogy first hand, in addition to developing their own sense of working within the public domain, a crucial skill in a world of 24-hour connectivity.
Spontaneity and immediacy are of course seen as some of the celebrated strengths of social media like twitter. Consider its role for example in alerting the public of information or news about significant events such as natural disasters before it even breaks in the mainstream. Responding in the twitter debate, within seconds, students were receiving replies from Andy and thinking on their feet. But conveying a message in 140 characters is challenging, particularly if one wants to avoid over simplification in complex, critical debate. Do we prepare students well for this? Quick thinking and summarising you views carries potential risk which for many means a fear of ‘tweeting’ and putting critical views in the public domain.
Just this week, the BBC published an article on Twitter users: A guide to the law, which suggests that ordinary social media users need to have a grasp of media law. Through the defamation bill and other laws, it may be clearer to us what we can and can’t say on platforms like twitter. Perhaps clearer social media law will offer both staff and students clarity and confidence in engaging with social media in the classroom. However, this law doesn’t of course address issues of reciprocity, etiquette, or how we make ‘cold’ connections in the networked world.
If the Twitter debate hadn’t been facilitated in a formal capacity, many of the students would not felt it appropriate to contact a Professor (or other ‘esteemed’ twitter user) in the way they did during the debate. We do not know the future of these emerging technologies and so ‘demarcation and rules’ do not seem so fruitful here. Fluidity, flexibility and responsiveness seem like important skills for students to develop as part of their learning. Apart from anything else, it’s a great way to bring some additional life into lectures and encourage students to think about their online presence; something they inevitably will have, but which is usually separate from their learning.
Today I hit the road again to Brussels for an EC Digital Futures foresight workshop.
Here's the plan:
The workshops will address the following four elements:
a) Visions describing possible futures (i.e. snapshots of the world in the future), with perceived likelihood and year of maturity (if and when the visions would materialise), desirability, and impacts associated to them.
b) Trends identifying complex phenomena observable today that may have an influence on the futures, either directly or because they would lead to intermediate situations that would in turn generate other trends affecting 2040-50's scenarios.
c) Issues stemming from the envisaged futures, i.e. possible opportunities and risks that can be associated to them.
Furthermore, the workshops will identify opportunities for intervention to shape the above visions, together with associated actors ('implementers'), and possibly roadmap sketches towards the futures. These will then be translated intopolicy options underpinning possible paths to the futures.
Last week, I was in Taiwan and gave a lecture about social media and sport at Da-Yeh University. I focused on aspects of the London 2012 Olympics, while also talking about other dimensions of my next book titled 'A Digital Olympics', which covers everything digital in sport, from citizen journalism to virtual reality simulations. Taiwan is an amazing place, unlike any other place in Asia I have visited.
On Friday this week, I'll give a keynote at the PSA Sport & Politics annual conference in Southampton. It's titled Citizen Journalism & the London 2012 Olympic Games: Ambush Media, Celebrating Humanity & Political Resistance